Go back

Australia and the Rules-Based International Order

Published 11 Oct 2021
By Melissa Conley Tyler FAIIA, Allan Gyngell AO FAIIA and Dr Bryce Wakefield

This is an unsettling time for world politics.

One constant in commentary at the moment, here and overseas is the term “rules-based international order” (sometimes “global rules-based order”). The importance of the rules-based order was central to the Australian Government’s 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, 2016 Defence White Paper and 2020 Defence Strategic Update.

It continues to feature prominently in Australian government statements, including prime ministerial speeches.1 While some past catch-cries like “creative middle power” and “top 20 nation” have faded from public statements, “rules-based international order” continues to have its moment in the sun.

One of the best contributions groups like the Australian Institute of International Affairs and universities like the Australian National University can make as we step uncertainly into the future is to is to help policymakers and the community think clearly about the way we frame the world and what we mean by the language we use.

That was our purpose in organising a conference about Australia and the Rules-Based International Order on 18-19 July 2018 and producing a publication to document these discussions.

Our objective in this publication is to clarify what is meant when we talk about the rules-based order. Even in official Australian usage, its meaning is often slippery, encompassing everything from the UN system to an ill-defined status quo, so there is value in building a shared understanding. We want to examine the contribution Australia has made to the development of a rules-based order, and to think about its future.


A PDF version is available for download.

Australia and the Rules-Based International Order

A hardcopy of this publication can be purchased from the AIIA National Office for $20. Please contact the AIIA National Office email: